If you love to bake anything chocolate you may have found that choosing chocolate for baking has gotten a little complicated. It used to be pretty straightforward — dark, milk, white, sweet, un-sweetened, semisweet or bittersweet. But these days, sorting out which chocolate belongs in your brownies or chocolate chip cookies can seem more like selecting a fine wine than whipping up a batch of your kid’s favorite cupcakes. Your choices can be very confusing with all the different percentages listed on the package. You can find 33%, 47%, 64% or even 91% percent cacao is available on the market and some chocolate with no percentage of cacao listed at all. Then the question must be asked is one any better than the other? And, what’s all this percent stuff about cacao, anyway?
American chocolate companies have taken a page out of the wine and coffee industries’ marketing books and have begun labeling their bars with the source of origin, single origin (estate grown) and according to the percentage of cacao content which is the combined blend of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
The biggest problem is there’s way too much emphasis on the percentage of cacao and not enough attention paid to the ratio of the ingredients. Most people think the higher the percentage of cacao, the better the chocolate. There are other factors that go into chocolate quality. It’s really misleading to just claim that one bar compared to another is better just because it has 80 percent cacao versus 70 percent cacao for another.
Good chocolate makers use simple ingredients, a blend of cacao—fats and solids—sugar and dairy in the case of milk chocolate. The ratio of the blend affects taste, texture and how it reacts in making chocolate both for eating or baking. A higher percentage of cacao doesn’t guarantee a more intense chocolate flavor, because cacao percentages represent the total of all cocoa solids (from which chocolate gets its flavor) and cocoa butter (which imparts chocolate’s lush mouth feel). While different chocolates may have the same percent of total cacao, they could contain vastly different ratios of solids and fats, and that dramatically influences both the taste, texture of and the “bakablity” of the chocolate.
Higher cacao percentages also don’t necessarily result in higher quality either. Taste is influenced more by the origin, drying, fermenting, roasting and the blend of beans. Better beans can produce better chocolate, even with lower percentages and cacao ratios.
So What Should You Buy?
For eating, stick to less than 70 percent cacao. Sugar enhances the flavor and texture of chocolate… bars with higher ratios, especially European chocolate can taste bitter and chalky depending on how the bean has been roasted. I recommend Choclatique’s Private Reserve Dark Chocolate Bar (64%).
For baking, I like to use and 70 to 80 percent dark chocolate depending on the ration of fat to solids. Our Ebony Dark Chocolate Pastilles (72%) are perfect for both flavor and mouthfeel. If you want a great milk chocolate, I suggest our Heirloom Milk Chocolate (41%) and for the best baking white chocolate I only use Choclatique’s Snowy-White Chocolate Pastilles (32%).
Of course, it ultimately all comes down to taste. If you’re looking for great baking chocolate, don’t use one that you wouldn’t enjoy eating.